“Well Binny, you picked a real winner here.” Hermione motioned towards Michel while trying to shield herself from the sprinkles.
“I’m telling you, he’s in there. We just need to figure out the password.” Michel insisted.
“Has anyone else read the book?” Binny asked.
Blank stares greeted her in response.
“What did he mean about the rules?” Binny asked Michel.
“You only get one try at the password per day. Then you have to be on your way.”
“How many times have you tried to get in there?” Katniss asked.
“Twenty-six.” Michel said, hanging his head.
“Did that count for all of us or just you?” Binny asked.
“I don’t know. One of you could try I suppose.”
“My turn then.” Arya announced, and went back in without waiting for permission.
Arya was gone before anyone had a chance to protest. They all followed her back in to see what would happen.
“I’d like to try.” Arya announced to the giant man.
Fezzik turned to Arya. She was the smallest of their group and stood in stark contrast to Fezzik who looked amused by the difference between her physical size and the size of her attitude. Fezzik raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“Let us in, or I shall have to add you to my list.” Arya unsheathed Needle.
“What would happen if you added me to your list?” The giant asked gently.
“Do I need to spell it out?” Arya gently waved her sword in Fezzik’s direction.
“Little girl. I use bigger swords as toothpicks. Empty threats are not the password either. On your way.” The giant deftly moved Arya towards the exit, resheathing her sword in the process.
Katniss and Hermione both reluctantly gave it a shot. Katniss tried something in French, being that they were in Paris, and Hermione tried singing. Neither worked.
Each time, they entered the little entryway, Binny eyed the giant. And each time she felt an itch in the back of her mind. But she couldn’t quite figure it out.
She’d never seen him before in her life. Of course other than the characters in her own book, she’d never seen anyone in the Stacks before in her life.
But Fezzik was someone she would have remembered. His arms in particular. Gargantuan and unlike any she’d ever seen. Smallish mountains sat under the heavy cloth of the man’s brown tunic. Binny wasn’t entirely sure of the dictionary definition of a tunic, but the tent that served as a shirt for this man seemed to qualify.
And then, Binny had a memory. Lying in bed, her father reading to her. A book about a princess, and a farmhand, and a swordsman, and a bad king, and a scheming little man, and his friend the giant!
“Oh my god. I know who it is.”
“Who what is?” Katniss said.
“Who’s Fezzik?” Hermione asked.
“The guy. The giant in there. Didn’t you hear, Michel said his name is Fezzik.” Binny turned to Michel, “Didn’t you read his book?”
“Does it take place in Paris?”
“Then no. I did not.”
Binny sighed, exasperated. “Any of you?”
Blank stares again.
“Let’s go.” Binny’s tone left no room for argument as she marched back through the door to face the giant.
“I see you’ve come back for more.” The giant said in his slow rumbly gravelly voice.
“We were hoping you would open the door.” Binny said, hoping her hunch was correct. Binny saw a glimmer on Fezzik’s face when she responded. He looked just slightly surprised.
“Will you threaten me again with a sword?” Fezzik asked.
“No. We wouldn’t want you to be bored.” Binny emphasized the last word, her eyes sparkling.
The others looked at each other trying to understand exactly what was happening.
“What new plan will you try this time?” Fezzik asked.
“We hope to gain entrance if we give you a rhyme.” Binny said triumphantly.
A broad smile broke on Fezzik’s face. He stepped to the side, opened the door behind him, and said, “As you wish.”
“How did you know what to say? I’ve been trying for months!” Michel said, his mouth agape.
Katniss and Arya seemed to regard Binny with new respect as well. Hermione’s expression was inscrutable.
“It helps when you read their book.” Binny smiled.
“The password was in the book?” Katniss asked.
“Not exactly. Fezzik loves to rhyme. So I just had a hunch.
“That was a hell of a hunch.” Katniss said.
“I’m impressed. Though I still think Needle could have done some damage.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the loud jazz fanfare. The group looked up and found themselves in an underground nightclub. On the stage was an all-female jazz band fronted by male and female dancers in what were no doubt skimpy outfits for the time, but relatively tame by Binny’s standards. Michel was in awe.
“There. I told you this is where he hangs out.” Michel pointed.
Sitting on the far side of the room with a great view of the stage, holding court at a large, semi-circular red leather banquette, making circles out of the smoke he was inhaling from his long hand-whittled pipe, was Gandalf the Grey.
“He would kick Dumbledore’s ass you know.” Arya said under her breath to Hermione as they walked across the dance floor, avoiding the dancing couples.
Hermione shot Arya an unmistakably angry look, and was about to respond.
“Shhh… you two. We have more important things to do than bicker. I don’t want to screw this up.”
Hermione gave Binny a knowing look that only she could see.
As they got closer, it was clear that Gandalf wasn’t alone. Sitting to Gandalf’s right was an enormous man. His gray beard reached down to his waist – it was longer than Gandalf’s. But unlike Gandalf the man had a huge stomach, a small crown on his head, and a signet ring on his left pinky. The fat king’s robe was luxurious and embroidered with what looked like all the letters of the alphabet.
To Gandalf’s left sat a large woman though she wasn’t quite as large as the king to his right. Upon further reflection, it occurred to Binny that it was mostly the woman’s head that was large. Her body seemed disproportionately smaller than her head, and almost two-dimensional as if it was made of curled paper in some places. Or maybe it was just her clothing that was made of paper. Binny couldn’t tell.
The woman wore an elaborately decorated headdress that was covered in red hearts. In fact, below the ruffled ring that separated the woman’s fat head from the rest of her slight body, was a very ornate outfit that too was covered in red hearts.
When Binny looked at just the right angle, she could see even more hearts embroidered on the material, but these were done in a thread that was the same color as the entire dress so they were only visible when the light was just so. And apparently, light was at a premium in smoky clubs in Paris in the 1920’s.
“Hello.” Binny said brightly. Binny looked to her companions to make sure they were behind her. Arya looked starstruck, and surprisingly so did Hermione. Even Katniss looked a little giddy. Michel just looked uncomfortable.
“If my executioner were here, I’d have him lop off your head for that incessant smoking.” The woman said to Gandalf.
“My dear, I’d do it myself if it would change our circumstances. But alas I’m sentenced to spend the rest of my days here with you, which as far as I’m concerned is a much worse fate.” Gandalf replied. He sounded like he meant it too.
“Between your smoking, and your constant unfilled execution orders,” The king motioned to Gandalf and the large-headed woman, “it seems like you’re both in quite a pickle.” The king said and then looked around expectantly.
Gandalf rolled his eyes. “Of course, you must realize that will not work.”
Binny was utterly confused but transfixed by the odd conversation the trio was having.
“I want a pickle. And yet they keep dilly-dallying with my dill.” The king said.
“If they don’t bring you what you want, have their heads chopped off. That’s what I would do. What good is it being the king, if you can’t chop off a few heads?” The woman said.
Binny gathered up her courage and interrupted the argument. “Hello.” Binny said more loudly than she’d intended.
The trio at the table seemed surprised that they had an audience. Each turned their head to examine the gathering.
“What have we here?” The king said.
“Oh hello little ones.” Gandalf said.
The woman with the hearts sneered but said nothing.
Binny introduced herself as did the others, and then Binny continued. “It’s an absolute honor to meet you Gandalf. And then turning to the woman, Binny curtsied and said, “And of course it’s an honor to meet the Queen of Hearts as well.”
The woman smiled a satisfied smile but Binny knew it was probably temporary.
“And of course, you are the king. So what an honor it is to meet you as well.” Binny curtsied again, hoping it would suffice.
The King raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know who I am. Do you?”
Binny looked to her companions but they all shook their heads. Binny turned back to the king and said. “I apologize, but I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Don’t be afraid young miss. There’s nothing scary here.” The king replied.
“I just meant –” Binny tried to explain.
“I am King Azaz of course!” The king announced proudly.
And then a flicker of recognition registered in Binny’s mind. “You’re the king of Dictionopolis!”
“Perhaps fear triggers memories.” The King said. “Which reminds, me, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my Scaredy Cat. Every time I approach him, he runs away.”
Binny whispered to her friends, “The Phantom Tollbooth.” My dad made me read it.
“I’d cut his head off.” The Queen said.
“Don’t show her your sword. She might try and use it.” Katniss whispered to Arya.
“That’s your answer for everything.” Gandalf muttered in between draws on his pipe.
“Gandalf, I was wondering if you might be able to help us.” Binny tried to redirect the conversation. “We’re on a bit of a quest.”
Gandalf and the others looked at Binny expectantly.
“Not much questing in this place.” Gandalf said.
“I’ve seen resting, and jesting, but I agree, not much questing at all.” Said, King Azaz.
“I don’t mean to be indelicate –” Binny started.
“You don’t look fragile to me child.” The King interrupted.
Binny made a mental note to try and avoid any phrases with double meanings while the king was involved in the conversation. “I meant to say that I don’t mean to be
“Say what you mean child.” King Azaz ordered.
“Agreed.” The Queen echoed.
“But we’re looking to find someone who is old and powerful.” Binny finished her thought.
“How rude! Off with her head.” The Queen ordered.
Katniss and Hermione stole glances at Arya’s sword making sure it was still in its scabbard.
“I have power over words. I’m the king of them in fact.” Azaz said.
“I have the power to remove your heads. How’s that for powerful. That said, I’m certainly the youngest of this dessicated group.” The Queen remarked and then looked away as if she didn’t care whether anyone answered or not.
“Gandalf, aren’t you the oldest though?”
“I don’t know. It’s not a concept that I spend a lot of time ruminating over.”
“I’m quite old. I think.” Azaz rumbled.
“How old are you? Sixty? Seventy?” Binny asked.
“A-A-R-G-H, numbers! Never mention numbers. Only use them when we absolutely have to.” Growled Azaz disgustedly and looked away.
“He’s thousands of years old. Approximately eleven thousand years. Maybe more.” Arya said.
“Is that so?” Gandalf looked delighted with Arya’s expertise.
“It is so.” Arya said with a very serious look on her face.
“Well, then I suppose you’ve found your relic. How may I serve your little band?” Gandalf motioned to Binny and the others.
Binny took a deep breath. “I’ve heard that things used to be different.”
“All things get different when you use them.” The King tried to rejoin the conversation.
“Not executioners’ hatchets. Mine stays sharp no matter how many heads he removes with it.” The Queen remarked.
“Hush you two. The children are trying to explain their quest.” Gandalf said.
“In the Stacks I mean. I heard that there was a time when things were different here. And I thought since you might be one of the oldest characters here you might remember what it used to be like.”
Gandalf smiled sweetly at Binny and leaned forward. “My dear, I am not the kind of old you are looking for. The oldest among the three of us I’m afraid is the Queen here.”
“How dare you!” The Queen yelled.
Gandalf ignored her. “The king first appeared in 1961.”
The King covered his ears and pouted at the mention of the number.
Gandalf ignored him too. “I first appeared here in 1937. But the Queen here, with her heart obsession, first appeared before any of us in 1865.”
The Queens eyes darted everywhere in the club looking for someone, anyone, to start chopping.
“That’s before all of us.” Arya said.
“Not exactly.” Michel said. He hadn’t spoken a word since they’d arrived.
“Your book was published in 1984. I know it. You weren’t here before any of them.” Hermione said.
“That was his second trip to the Stacks.” Binny said with quiet authority.
“What?” Even the King and the Queen took an interest in this. Everyone looked to Binny for an explanation.
After Michel nodded his permission, Binny recounted Michel’s story of his first brief visit to the Stacks.
“And when was this magical first tenure in the Stacks.”
“It was barely a tenure. I was here for such a short time I barely remember anything.” Michel said, and then added, “It was 1863.”
The Queen gasped.
“Two full years before your grand entrance.” Gandalf smirked and then blew a smoke ring that somehow wound its way over to the Queen who waved at it furiously with her small hands.
“What do you remember, boy?” The King commanded.
“There’s really only one thing that stands out for me. Back then, there were no Keepers.”